We landed at London Gatwick on March 10, 2012, late at night. We took a cab directed to the studio flat we had booked for a week, as a temporary solution. That’s when our adventure here began. When we started fighting against time and rules to find an apartment, land a rental contract, start jobs and deal with bank accounts. We quickly realized that one week wasn’t going to be enough. It became two, then three. After three weeks, which felt more like months, we had finally found humble jobs and could show the real estate people we were (barely) able to afford the one bedroom apartment we had seen and loved and wanted so badly. Those three weeks counted dozens of seeings of properties all over London. None of which worked. We were depressed, discouraged, and tired. Then, we saw the one, and we knew since the very first step into the door that we couldn’t find anything better. We also knew we were going to struggle to afford it, month after month.
We left the temporary studio flat that gave us a shelter and two electric hobs and a shower for three weeks. We entered the door of the new house with our two suitcases and two carry-ons. We didn’t have anything else. The house was bright and bare. Nothing else was there besides heavy furniture. We dropped our things, and with an energy that I can’t believe possible as I write, we headed to the train stop, directed to Ikea. We bought the cheapest plates, the cheapest pots and pans, the cheapest bed sheets. We bought only the essentials. We skipped on bedside table lamps, on cake tins, on shoe racks –we can do without, we thought. At the checkout, we paid with my Italian card, the one I was keeping for savings. It was an emergency, one of the many to come. We managed to fit all our purchases into two big blue recycled bags. We carried them to the train stop, and then home. Three flights of stairs without lift, and it was already the second time that day.
I remembered being exhausted to the point of not being hungry, of not being able to fall asleep. I remember getting ill from tiredness and stress. I remember sharing pots of store-bought soup warmed up in the microwave for dinner, and going to work with a banana and a carrot as “lunch” –there will be cheese to try, I thought. I remember everything, after one year, and these memories seem so far in the past and yet so vivid.
We are still here. Some things have changed, life is not as tough. Beginnings are always tough. I still wander how we made it through the rough times, ’cause we did. What is still tough today is working shifts and fitting social, emotional, creative life in between. But we are learning to make it work, and to make the best of what we have. We have grown, as individuals and as a couple. Today, we are stronger.
My hopes for the year to come are all about finding balance. For us, for ourselves. Because this lack of routine messes us up every part of our being. Because it doesn’t enable us to gain a needed rhythm, and to enjoy and share all those rituals that make life a bit more meaningful. It makes us feel constantly precarious.
might wander at this point what a tart, or rather, a galette, has to deal with all this. It is while making this galette that I was recalling those moments. And in doing so, I was thinking of how food like this has helped us through these 12 first months here, in many ways. It helped to create meaning even in the hardest times, when we were feeling lost and scared and tired. It filled our days with simple joys and pleasures when we couldn’t afford much social life and getaways. It helped us to notice the passing of time when everything seemed confusing and fast. It made us stop, even if just for a moment, to understand, savor and listen. Food like this galette, filled with seasonal produce, helped us define who we were, where and when.
Now, after one year, is spring again. Time for rebirth and change. Time to make it happen.
- about 2 1/2 cups whole spelt flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and trimmed
- 1 garlic clove
- 4 beets (purple or golden), washed and peeled
- 1 tbsp rosemary
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp chia seeds + 3 tbsp whole milk
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the center, add the oil and incorporate using a fork. Combine water and vinegar and add it to the flour. Knead only until a ball comes together, without overdoing it or else you’ll develop the gluten in the flour and make your dough tough. Divide the dough into two pieces and shape them into flat balls. Cover them in cling film and let them rest in the fridge for about an hour. When ready to use, remove the cling film and roll out one ball of dough on a floured surface, using a rolling pin, until you get a very thin circle. Layer it on a lightly greased tart pan and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and get started with the filling. Slice the beets with a mandolin and place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Drizzle with one tbsp oil and season with salt, pepper and rosemary. Bake for 15 minutes. When done, remove from the oven and set aside.
In the meantime, heat the rest of the oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and the chard and saute for 2-3 minutes, until cooked.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl, stir chia seeds with milk. Let sit for five minutes until a gel forms. Add eggs and beat until combined.
Assemble your tart by scattering the cooked chard at the bottom, then layering the roasted beets on top, and finally pouring the egg-chia mixture over the vegetables. Sprinkle with parmigiano. Fold the edges of the tart shell over the filling.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the crust is deeply browned and the filling is done. Remove and let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
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